|The Last Walk
Author: I.A.Lai PM
A man reflects on his life while on the way to the hangman's noose.Rated: Fiction M - English - Tragedy - Words: 2,340 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 2 - Published: 06-15-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3032660
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Softly, the swish of cloth caresses the air. Slowly, I draw in one freezing breath. Then two. Another. It isn't as hard as I had thought. My senses are struggling to return in this cold. They had beaten and tortured me for so long; I don't think I can even recall what it felt like to be whole.
Against the crusted blood gluing my eyes shut, I manage to open them and see a single flame illuminating the dark stone of the corridor. The haze from my vision made it seem as if an ethereal spirit of fire had come to take me to the warmth of oblivion. Perhaps I deserved it.
But no. Not an otherworldly being here to snatch me away from this place. Only the torturer and…a nobleman? Straining against the frozen collar about my neck, I peered at this strange person, unfortunately feeling the torch lit a spark of hope within my breast. Closer and it was doused entirely. That man held no kindness or mercy for me.
No. There would be no rescue today. So instead I was filled with apathy; I would be dead soon. Of that I was certain. Croaking out in a barely audible voice I asked, "Why is the heir here?"
A snarl from the torturer answered, "Quiet! No one be wanting ta hear tha words o' traitorous scum like you."
Fine. I could accept that. I closed my eyes and turned my head back to face the ceiling. But the prince's voice slipped through the clanking sound of fumbled keys.
"It is the last day of the month."
Of course it was. Today was hanging day. I wanted to laugh, and I wanted to cry. It would all be over soon, but that meant it would all be over. At least…at least I would see the sun one last time.
The shackles, chains and hooks were removed from my body, and the torturer yanked me until I stood on my feet. Unable to keep from gasping at the pain, as wounds reopened and seeping warmth trailed down my body, I dreaded that I would lose my nerve. If I lost my dignity as well as my life today…
Roughly he shoved me forward, shivering and naked, through the oppressive hallway. My bare feet stuck to the stone and my breath iced over shaking lips. Despite all that—I could do this. I would not take back what I had done, and given the chance I would do it again. There are more important things in this world than the suffering of one man.
That is what I told myself until we got to the stairs.
"Papa!" my little girl's voice laughed as she stumbled after me. An adorable child of perfect proportions, with the same honey hair as I and the soft face and green eyes of her mother.
Smiling, I waited for her to finish toddling up the cobblestones to reach me. Taking her hand I said, "Mama's been preparing this party all day for you. Are you excited?"
She nodded emphatically as we approached the steps up to my home. Home. So good to finally be back after that wretched stint I'd had at the capital. Even a minor noble such as myself was affected by the king's sudden illness.
Not paying proper attention I failed to save my daughter from tripping on the first step. She fell, ripping her dress, and skinning her knee. Then she began to cry.
There—there it was. A halo of light framed the door that held behind it the entire world. I was pushed forward and crashed into it, falling through into the snow. It was beautiful! The light! So much light! I began to weep from the shock of it, as well as the fresh air. Still it was biting, but it tasted so good!
"Get up," the torturer grunted and lifted me by the neck. A slap across the face sent me collapsing back into the numbing cold.
The prince's smooth voice said, "None of that. We require him to be able to walk to the noose on his own two legs yes?"
Grunting, the torturer acquiesced and I was forced to stand again. My breathing ragged I followed the muddy path that cut through the snow. A glance to the side and I saw the garden benches I had visited so often here this last summer. The tracks of crows crisscrossed the now barren bushes and frozen over pond.
"And that gentlemen, that is the dream I have chosen you to help me fulfill," the prince's cousin spoke grandiosely, gesturing broadly as he continued. "A dream of our land that can never come to pass if the crown prince is to take the throne. To the majority he appears as a saintly figure—but we know better do we not?" His shrewd eyes swept around the small gathering and I could not help but shiver. The moonlight reflected from those eyes so fiercely it compelled me to believe in Him, Him and His convictions. How could such passion and intelligence be wrong?
Murmurs of consent rippled around the half circle and I considered the other men here. Mostly minor nobles such as myself, and councilors who disagreed with the heir's policies. Combined we were nothing special, but with Him…with Him we could accomplish great things.
He absently plucked a flower from a bush and stared at it. "We are tasked to better our world. It will be hard, some of the things we do may be seen as wrong." A glance up to meet our gazes. "But, never forget this night, and this dream."
Quiet applause and I felt my soul rise at his words. Yes. We would change this world.
Through the giant gates and onto the main road we walked, a grey sky giving no warmth to the people below it. No sun. I had never noticed how it all seemed so close before, the clouds pressing down on us, the dark wooden buildings on either side. And the people. How they stared as I was led through the muck of horse piss and other things I cared not to think about.
They whispered, and then one threw something. The rock struck my side and I doubled over in pain. Then more came and the shouting began. All jumbled together, the crude curses and sharp blows overwhelmed all my other senses.
Eventually, the guards drove the mob back so only their words could strike at me. I wanted so much to walk with my head held high and my back straight. But with my shriveled body so exposed, all that pride I had wanted to hold so close fled.
A brilliant flash of light snatched my gaze past the jeering swarm of faces. The glass specialty shop. And there displayed in the window as some kind of omen was a red bird in mid-flight.
"I'm home sweetheart." I swooped in from behind to give my wife a peck on the cheek and present to her a delicate glass flower. She had always loved visiting that shop when we stayed at our winter house in the capital.
I expected a loving smile and open embrace. Instead she stiffened and shoved my arm away. "You were supposed to be home two weeks ago."
Oh… "I'm sorry, it's just we've been having some problems on the northern border and with the king on his deathbed—"
She rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation. "You could have sent a letter! But no! You didn't even care enough to let your family know you were alright!" Her tiny fist pounded against my chest.
I could not tell her. She did not need to know. It would hurt her. "Please, I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"It had better not!" She slapped my reaching hand away from her and the flower shattered.
Full of fury I raised my arm to strike her. How dare she? I had given this woman so many liberties and still she wanted more! Not today, not after all I did for her and for our country!
My hand stung as I watched her fall back into the couch and give panicked pants of pain. I was about to advance and bring her to her feet, but a small cry gave me pause. Out the corner of my eye I saw the pale nightdress of my daughter shaking as she watched from behind a door. Shame replaced anger. Heavens what had I done? This was not what I wanted her to think of marriage, as soon she would be leaving to seal an alliance.
What had I done?
I could see the iron spines of the city wall now. And for the bitter cold of winter I was glad once again. Even though I could not feel my feet, I was glad that I could not smell the corpses from last months hanging. During the summer the stench as one passed through the gates was unbearable.
The raucous sounds of a low class tavern, already open at this time of day, distracted me for a moment. I could almost taste the cheap alcohol and unwashed bodies as the scent wafted over to me.
Feeling my abdomen beginning to convulse I bent over and vomited up the entire contents of my stomach—nothing.
"Why here of all places?" a man asked as he wrinkled his nose at a serving wench sauntering by. I had to agree. Was the garden not suitable enough for our purposes?
I should not question though. He had asked us to meet here in this filthy hole and so we had. Thus far all plans had gone accordingly, the time for doubt had long since passed.
Around the time of our second mug of watery beer, He arrived and our mood brightened. Over the months, that fervor He had possessed us, and every time we saw our leader it was rekindled to new glory.
We gathered round Him and listened intently to the assassination plot. So enthralled to Him that we did not even question the sanity behind it all.
We had reached the wall and the crowd cried even more for my death. It was suffocating, and more than once was I beaten after stumbling and falling. One determined woman broke through the guards and screamed at me, "Devil! Why did yah try to ruin it all? Why?"
She was pushed back roughly and her words stabbed at me. I told myself again, 'you are not wrong'. I was not wrong…?
Was it a delusion? Had it all been in vain? Oh gods I hoped not. I had to believe that there was some worth in my actions, some reason why I had to give up everything. My stomach lurched as in the nearby alley I saw the splinted wood and bloodstained stone, but was not allowed to be sick as they forced me forward into the even colder shadow of the wall. My shivering became violent. They saw my weakness and shrieked their curses even louder, predators after dying prey. If not for the guards I knew they would have torn me apart right there in the middle of the road. The darkness passed and after a moment of blindness from the light, I saw the distant hill overlooking the lake.
"Oh stop that!" my wife giggled deliciously as I whispered something childish into her ear. My wife—can you imagine? Several long, hard years of wooing her, winning over her father and I had finally succeeded!
She sighed and snuggled closer into my side as we watched the crimson sunset painting the lake a similar picture of the divine.
Up the stairs and to the rope hanging from the post that jutted out from the wall. I broke. I began to weep uncontrollably. The torturer grunted his disgust as I was forced into place and the bag brought out to be placed over my head. Struggling, I twisted away from him, kicking and yelling with every last amount of pathetic strength I had left. Of course it was to no avail. All I earned for my trouble was a blow to the head that caused my vision to blur.
Just before the bag was smashed down and the noose placed about my neck, I saw a halo of honey hair amidst all the brown. My beautiful, beautiful girl. Why were you here? This was not the place for one such as you.
My crimes and requiem were spoken but I could not even concentrate on all the things they had chosen for me to regret. All I could think of was my little girl and how overjoyed and dismayed I was to know she was here.
"But father," she wailed and clung to me tightly.
"Hush now. It is your duty as a woman to bear strong children for our country," I stroked her hair and gave the waiting driver a sympathetic look. Tomorrow was her wedding. At first she had taken the news so well, but now that the day had arrived the façade had completely disappeared.
"No! I don't want to go!"
"You must." I leaned down to look her firmly in those green eyes. "You will be fine. You are a strong girl and we will visit you often."
It hurt me to see how much she hurt. Ignoring the presence of the servants, I bumped my forehead against hers. "It will be okay."
She nodded and sobbed again before attempting a smile, giving me one last hug. I kissed her forehead with a chuckle. "Now get in the carriage. I'll see you later tonight."
I heard the sound of the wood creaking as the lever was pulled. The ground fell beneath me and I did not even catch one breath before my last struggle began.